By Dylan Rouse
Photos By Jenny Konesky
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The Student Senate recently passed a bill that will stop the distribution of plastic bottled water on campus next fall. This bill has faced criticism from some students, claiming that it will impact the availability of clean drinking water. But the water in the city of Bemidji is perfectly safe, and there is a good chance that there will soon be at least two water filter stations in each building on campus.
Bemidji State is the first school in the MnSCU system to ban on the sale of plastic water bottles, but the movement is not new to the BSU campus. Students have been expressing their concerns to the Senate for around six years. Last spring, the leaders of our campus sent a proposal to the administration but it was not yet strong enough to pass. This year however, the bill was approved and it is likely that the administration will decide on whether or not to implement it by spring break.
“Ban the Bottle” campaigns are becoming more popular throughout the country and exist to promote environmental sustainability. According to their website, “Colleges and Universities have been known to consume more plastic bottles annually than most other organizations.” Macalester College and the College of Saint Benedict are the other two schools in Minnesota who have existing campaigns. The Student Senate has also been contacted by Winona State and Minnesota State Mankato to learn more about our efforts.
As the official voice of the students, our student government has worked hard to research and determine the best plan of action towards addressing our concerns. Our university has often been known as an environmental steward, and selling plastic water bottles is unsustainable. Students, faculty and staff spend $15,000 dollars a year on unflavored bottle water, a figure that will dramatically decrease when we start taking full advantage of the water stations around campus – and according to the Bemidji Health report, the water is safe to drink.
One of the other reasons cited in the new Water Bottle Policy is that “Bemidji State University should not invest in the bottled water industry’s attempt to deny the basic human right to have access to clean drinking water.” This statement has been criticized by students, including Dean Determan, a former president of the BSU College Republicans in a Letter to the Editor in the Bemidji Pioneer. By not investing in bottled water the university can allocate more funds into providing additional fountains and unlimited access to free, clean drinking water.
Some people have also claimed that the Senate would be imposing their environmental beliefs on others by banning the sale of unflavored bottled water. While purchasing plastic bottles is a personal choice by a consumer, our Senate has decided to remove these products from the shelves of campus. Students will still be able to bring their own bottles to campus; but they will not be able to purchase them there. The sustainability office also offers free reusable containers to all students.
Jenna Long, co-president of the BSU Student Senate, expressed hope that the publicity from their efforts is a good step towards combating the water bottle industry and also reflects our campus’ sustainability status. She also notes that the vending machines on campus may still offer bottled water in the fall of 2016.
Bemidji State is an environmentally friendly campus, banning the sale of plastic water bottles reinforces its mission of embracing responsible citizenship. Students are encouraged to contact the Student Senate with any concerns or to express their opinions.